When the ball tips off in Missoula on Thursday at 7 p.m., the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks will have a fresh start at hand with the beginning of conference play versus Montana. The Lumberjacks will conclude the first weekend of the Big Sky schedule on Saturday at Montana State at 2 p.m. to conclude a four-game road swing.
The Lumberjacks' four-game losing streak, the worst skid so far this season, was extended prior to the holiday break after two road losses to Youngstown State, 69-67, on Dec. 16 and CSUN, 78-69, on Dec. 18. The Lumberjacks are winless in four true road games this season, not including two wins on a neutral court.
Despite its 3-8 record, NAU has two of the Big Sky's top-10 scorers on its side, including redshirt senior Olivia Lucero, who ranks eighth in the conference with 16.6 points per game. Lucero has been more than a scorer though as she ranks second in the conference in assists with 5.2 per game and has two double-digit assist games this season.
Redshirt senior Kenna McDavis has been one of the conference's most lethal 3-point shooters, averaging 3.1 makes per game, placing her fourth. McDavis is second on the team, ninth in the Big Sky, with 16.5 points per game and paces the Big Sky with 9.9 rebounds per game.
The Lumberjacks are averaging 75.5 points per game, which is second-most in the conference. However, NAU has not eclipsed 70 points in the past three games. NAU ranks fourth in the Big Sky with a team field goal percentage of .429.
All Big Sky Conference games throughout the remainder of the season will be available on the Pluto TV app or pluto.tv for free. The Lumberjacks' Big Sky opener at Montana will be shown on Channel 237 followed by Channel 238 for their Saturday game at Montana State.
Montana enters conference play having won four of its last six games after starting out 0-5. The Griz, picked third in the Big Sky Preseason Coaches Poll and fifth in the Media Poll, defeated Rocky Mountain, 54-38, last Wednesday in their last contest and are now 4-7. McKenzie Johnston is Montana's lone scorer in double-figures at 10.8 points per game, while also leading the team with 48 assists and 13 3-pointers made. She ranks second on the team with 5.7 rebounds per game. Jace Henderson is averaging 9.4 points per game and ranks fifth in the conference with a team-best 7.7 boards per game. Montana ranks 10th in the conference in scoring offense with 59.5 points per game and fourth in scoring defense with 62.5 points per game allowed. They are second in fewest turnovers and second in turnover margin (+1.36).
Montana State, the defending Big Sky champions, are 6-5 at the start of conference play after dropping three of its last four games including a 75-54 loss to BYU Friday. The Bobcats were voted third by the Big Sky media and fourth by the coaches. Hannah Caudill is averaging a team-best 12.5 points per game while ranking fourth in the Big Sky in 3-point percentage (.453) and fifth in 3-pointers made per game (3.1). Madeline Smith is almost averaging a double-double with 10.9 points -- second on the team -- and 9.5 rebounds per game. Smith is tied for second in the conference in rebounding and fourth with a .530 field goal percentage. Although Montana State is last in the Big Sky in scoring offense at 59.1 points per game, the Bobcats lead the conference in scoring defense with 60.5 points per game allowed. Montana State is also the best at defending the arc, with opponents shooting only 27.4 percent.